Obiénéré Narrates the March on the RTI and Counts the Dead
The testimony of the former head of Abobo Commando Camp continued on Thursday, September 1. Barthelemy Obiénéré Ouattara, who testified openly in the Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé trial before the International Criminal Court, was questioned at length. Among the topics covered was the strengthening of the security system in Abobo and the march on the RTI.
This was the second day of testimony from Barthélémy Obiénéré Ouattara. For several hours, the former head of the Abobo Commando Camp answered questions from prosecution lawyer Eric McDonald. Many topics, such as the evolution of the security system in Abobo, incidents in the town during the presidential election, and the hierarchical organization of the Commando Camp, were discussed.
Regarding the security situation in the town before the first round of voting, “I cannot say that it was normal because we’d been at war since 2002, which prompted our leaders to develop a plan to avoid infiltration,” the witness said. He referred, in particular, to the establishment of checkpoints to search for arms and the deployment of new law enforcement units for the first round of the election: military, police, and gendarmerie.
This security system was strengthened over the weeks in response to specific incidents, said Obiénéré. Among these incidents were attacks by civilians against the security forces considered too close to Laurent Gbagbo during the conveying of ballot boxes in the first round and the presence of hooded men who tried to prevent voters from accessing polling stations.
March on the RTI, the former head of the Abobo Commando does his accounting
The discussion then focused on December 16, 2010, the day of the protesters’ march on the Radiodiffusion-Télévision ivoirienne (RTI), an event that is among the four selected in the charges against the accused. The witness gave his version of events that day, not without some confusion. He first stated that he had received “no prior instructions” regarding the march. It was then through phone calls that he was informed of how things were getting out of hand.
Early in the morning, the head of Abobo Commando Camp decided to check this information. There, he met the security forces firing teargas and carrying heavy weapons, before running into two injured police officers. Learning that there were “movements around PK18 crossroads,” the witness then sent a patrol that reported that there was “total confusion,” and that a “human barricade” had been formed by the military to stop the demonstrators. The military “responded to demonstrators’ gunfire,” according to the witness. “We are confident that the first shots were fired by civilians,” he explained.
On site, Obiénéré said he saw “many dead bodies lying on the ground,” about 50 men in their 30s. “I reported dead people on both sides [protesters and security forces],” he said but “without specifying numbers.”
The prosecution lawyer interrupted the witness, to remind him of his initial testimony. On Thursday, the witness said: “Because of my ethnic origin, I was not suitable for them. If I said that I had seen about 50 dead bodies [protesters], they were not going to take it seriously. It was as if I discredited the police…I did not give numbers because of my ethnicity.”
The witness had mentioned earlier in the day the lack of confidence in him at the Abobo Commando Camp because of his name, Ouattara.
Laurent Gbagbo and Charles Blé Goudé are charged with four counts of crimes against humanity, including murder, rape, and other inhumane acts, or – in the alternative – attempted murder and persecution. The accused allegedly committed these crimes during post-electoral violence in Côte d’Ivoire between December 16, 2010 and April 12, 2011.
This summary comes from Ivoire Justice, a project of Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW), which offers monitoring and commentary on the ICC’s proceedings arising from the post-election violence that occurred in Cote d’Ivoire in 2010-2011. It has been translated into English for use on International Justice Monitor.